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Long Story Short: Slow train coming



A strange victory


It’s been almost a week since the elections, and voters have had the opportunity to absorb the results, and wonder—what does it mean, in practical terms, that indicted Congressman Chris Collins, of New York’s 27th Congressional District, was almost certainly narrowly reelected? (His opponent, Nathan McMurray, is calling for a recount, but the result is unlikely to change.)


Collins’ insider trading trial is set for February 3, 2020, which might seem like an awfully long wait in a country that constitutionally guarantees “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial.” Don’t be surprised if Collins’ lawyers attempt to delay it further. In the meantime, for the next sixteen months, Collins will be splitting his time between assisting his lawyers in his defense and doing the work of the people. Immediately after the election, Collins stated that his legal woes will not distract him for the job. Which might be true, because he won’t have much to do.


The Congressman was removed from his House committees by Republican Speaker Paul Ryan after his indictment. Former Republican Congressman, Michael Grimm, who was indicted for tax evasion while in office, speaks from experience when—in a New York Times interview—he says that Collins is “going to have a really, really difficult emotional time, and, whether he knows it or not, a lot of Washington is going to look at him as a pariah.” Grimm states grimly, “Washington, as long as you’re riding high, they want to be your friend, and when you’re not, they don’t want to be anywhere near you.”


Add to this the fact that Collins will now be serving in a Democratic majority House, so any bill he would be likely to introduce will be a nonstarter. As the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, he’s enjoyed favorable treatment, but given the president’s own anticipated problems with the new Congress, Trump is unlikely to throw continued support to Collins.


So why did voters elect a man who legal experts say is likely to be convicted for a felony? In a Buffalo News article, Mary Ann King, of Orchard Park, explains that she voted for Collins, “to keep the seat in the party. I think the candidate may go to jail, but I think it’s important to preserve his seat for the Republican Party.” So, there you go: the idea is to elect an ineffectual leader, who will likely be in prison before his term is through, in order to keep the district in Republican hands. The next question: would Collins remain in office while in prison? There’s no law preventing him from doing so, as long as there isn’t a two-thirds vote to remove him form office. And when was the last time you saw a two-thirds vote in Congress on anything significant? So, the seat would be preserved for the Republican Party, but Collins would miss every vote. Stranger things have happened in the past couple years. 



Helping the neighborhood cross the street

I don’t know about you, but it’s been some time since I’ve heard a Boy Scout good-deed story. The classic, of course, is helping an old lady (not an old person, but specifically a lady) across the street.


One local Boy Scout is doing better than that.


The details:

Fifteen-year-old Dekari Jackson is helping everyone, young and old, to get safely across a street in his Buffalo neighborhood. Three years ago, a nine-year-old boy was killed at the intersection of Parkridge Avenue (a one-way street) and Hewitt Avenue (a dead end). More recently, Jackson’s mother was driving through the intersection when another driver went through a stop sign and hit her car. She spun 360 degrees, but fortunately was not seriously hurt.


Jackson recently petitioned the city to place a speed bump on Parkridge before the intersection to slow cars down. The city claims there is no money to do this, even though drivers regularly speed through stop signs at the corner.


How can a Boy Scout do a good deed if his own city won’t help? Jackson is not giving up. He’s planning to raise $3000 on his own to pay for two speed bumps, one at Parkridge, and another down the street at Comstock, the location of the earlier fatal accident. He hopes to hold a raffle at the New Beginning Church of God at Parkridge and Hewett, and he’s working to secure a date, hopefully within the next six weeks.


The takeaway:

Will someone please give this Scout a merit badge?



Brain avalanche

You know how sometimes one small thought triggers a steadily-building avalanche of musings, until your brain is virtually buried under a big pile of loosely related ideas? That happened to me Saturday. It began when I read a Buffalo News article about two opposing candidates for sheriff in Chautauqua County who made the decision to campaign against each other without malice. No attack ads, no challenges of moral character. Why? Because, though they have opposing political views, Jim Quattrone and Joe Gerace Jr. have been acquaintances in Jamestown for years. They worked in the same office; they know each other’s families. Republican Quattrone won the election, and though the defeat stung the Democratic incumbent, the two men remain friendly after the race.


With friends like that…

People sometimes question why I remain Facebook friends with individuals who hold starkly opposing views to mine. I’ve been harshly criticized by my left-wing friends for being too tolerant toward people who reveal sexist, racist, homophobic, pro-gun, or far-right biases in their posts and comments. The thinking goes, that by not attacking them, I lend tacit approval to their views. Other friends praise the same tolerance, with revealing comments like, “I don’t know how you do it.” It’s apparently an aberration when one does not detest the “other.”  


More amusing is what sometimes happens when I question an assertion made by one of my politically-aligned friends. (If it’s not abundantly apparent, I’m proudly liberal, and exasperatingly rational.) It’s usually a tiny difference of opinion, a gentle query on a bit of reflexive rhetoric. To some, this signals a falling out of lock step with the party line. Suddenly, I’m the “other”—not progressive enough, insufficiently anti-discriminatory, inadequately self-flagellatory and privilege-remorseful.



This increasing trend toward “othering” people we disagree with is alarming. The News article was a reminder that it doesn’t have to be that way. There are, of course, “bad hombres” on both ends of the political spectrum, but most humans are flawed but decent contributing members of society, with whom, if we look hard enough, we can find common ground—even as we vehemently disagree.


Recently, I was talking with my brother-in-law, who is a staunch Second Amendment enthusiast and passionate gun owner. I’m a gun-control advocate. Because we have chosen not to hate each other, I was able to make the case that we are essentially in agreement on this issue, the only difference being a matter of where we draw the line. Though our lines are drawn pretty damn far apart, if we were lawmakers, this would be a good starting point for negotiation.


A conversation among friends

The News article also caused me to reflect on a conversation that occurred at a Friday night art opening. A friend and I were chatting with another mutual friend—a smart and compassionate woman—who was feeling (as many people are) extremely anxious over the state of the country. My friend maintained (and I agreed) that while things are bad, they are not dire. This isn’t complacency. Widespread resistance to wrongheadedness is what keeps society—and government—moving forward. Our point was that, while it might not seem like it at the moment, things are moving forward.


There's a train a-coming

Think of it like this: we’re sitting inside a train car watching a heavy pendulum suspended from the ceiling, slowly swinging forward and then back. The pendulum just took a huge swing backward, and that’s what we see. But outside by the tracks, you see the train moving forward. It’s hard to visualize close up, but when the pendulum swings backward, it happens within the context of a greater forward motion.   


When I was a child, it was impossible to imagine a black man as president, or a woman as a viable presidential nominee. In fact, there were almost no women in political office. Last week, a record-breaking number of women ran for office, and many won, joining those already in office.


There was a time within my memory that black people were relegated to playing servants and pimps in movies. A recent criticism of the film industry was people of color not getting Oscar nominations for their successful roles in front and behind the camera. And then that changed too. Today, five of the ten highest paid actors globally are people of color. We just had a big-budget black superhero movie, a big-budget woman superhero movie (with two more on the way), and an all-Asian smash hit. Thirty years ago, none of this would have been possible, but it’s rapidly becoming unremarkable. When I was a kid, white boys performed black music on records, so it would be palatable to white America. Of the ten most universally popular music artists today, seven are people of color.


Fifty years ago, any office setting, real or fictional, had women in the role of secretaries. Today there are twenty-four female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. Not enough, but the train is a-rolling. Sexual harassment is at least recognized now, if not yet fully eliminated.


Not long ago, transgender people were curiosities and social outcasts. I currently watch two hit TV shows with actual transgender woman as main characters (yes, I watch Supergirl; don’t judge). I can’t recall how many men I’ve seen kissing on TV just this past week. Gay marriage? Unthinkable fifteen years ago. Now, it’s a plot point in a TV show featuring a powerful black woman lead. This is the new normal for young Americans.


While recent mass shootings are shocking and terrifying, violent crime and property crime in the US have fallen sharply over the past quarter century. Adults under thirty years old are less likely to own guns than older generations were at their age. Core elements of the Affordable Care Act—which didn’t exist in the US ten years ago—are now staunchly-defended entitlements in both red and blue states. Refugees may be characterized as invaders by the president, but in Buffalo and other cities, we crave more.


The takeaway:

If you can’t perceive the train’s forward momentum, take a look at the shockingly inappropriate magazine advertisements that were the norm in the not-so-distant past. They are inconceivable in America today. We are living during what my white male friend from the art show calls, “the last desperate gasp of white male hegemonic power.” So yeah, while the pendulum has swing backward in the train car, the train keeps chugging forward, and it ain’t stopping any time soon.


Epilogue: Immediately after writing this, my wife and I went to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody. There was a trailer before the show for On the Basis of Sex, the Hollywood biopic about the life and early career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I cried. At the preview! We have indeed come a long way.


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